What a weekend Canada is going to be. I am currently jumping up and down in excitement over the team’s press conference tomorrow, and I really do hope the mainstream media ask the questions that matter, not vaguely dip their toes into the water.
Tomorrow we see Paul Hembrey, Ross Brawn, Christian Horner, Stefano Domenicalli, along with Monisha Kaltenborn and Martin Whitmarsh. But it is the first four which will dominate proceedings, as it was announced yesterday evening that Mercedes and Pireilli will both be taken to the International Tribunal over the alleged Barcelona tyre test.
In the same statement that the FIA released on the matter, they also confirmed that Ferrari were cleared of any wrong doing and therefore no further action would be made against them. This incidentally has sparked some people to declare that the FIA had come to that decision, because Ferrari were the team in question – but let’s be clear the two scenarios are on a completely different scale.
We know RedBull and Ferrari have been the initiators of the Mercedes case, lodging an appeal to the FIA during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, and therefore to have all 3 team principals in the same room, along with Hembrey from Pirelli creates a tantalising prospect for a fantastic press conference – everyone got their popcorn at the ready?
So where do the differences lie between the Mercedes and Ferrari test?
Well the main reason, as far as I can ascertain, the test has been taken to the tribunal is down to Mercedes both using a 2013 current spec car, alongside their current drivers line-up competing in the 2013 Formula 1 season.
As we know, in season testing with a team’s current year’s car is currently banned under article 22.4 in the sporting regulations, outside 4 days of straight line aerodynamic tests and the Young Drivers test towards the end of the season.
Teams are however allowed to participate in tests with cars that are 2 or more years old. A clause in Pirelli’s contract allows them to invite teams to do 1000km private testing during a current season to help develop future compounds. Pirelli apparently invited all teams to participate in the 1000km tests and only Ferrari and Mercedes accepted.
But this is where the similarities between both tests differ however.
Ferrari, acknowledging the sporting regulations, rolled up to Barcelona post Bahrain with a 2011 spec car and Pedro De La Rosa (test driver) ready at hand to complete the 1000km tyre testing, it therefore satisfied both Pirelli's and the FIA's demands. They essentially ensured that both the team and the current driver’s line up did not learn anything from the test that would give them an advantage during the rest of the season and Pirelli got the data they needed for future assessment.
Mercedes on the other hand entered their test under a different light.
Pirelli invited Mercedes to complete their 1000km post Spanish Grand Prix. However, at that point in time Pirelli were under a lot of pressure in regards to the spectacular tyre delaminations experienced in consecutive Grand Prix weekends where the tread could be seen visibly flying off the carcass of the tyre.
Now there is an exception to the ruling of current 2013 spec cars entering testing sessions. As part of the agreement between Pirelli and the FIA, they can invite a team to participate in a private test on safety grounds if the tyres are deemed too dangerous. This has to be unanimously agreed by all teams and the FIA before it can take place to make sure all team principals are aware of the main reason behind the test.
This is where it got a bit messy however. Pirelli had stated that they invited Mercedes to participate in the test after first gaining approval from the FIA and having notified all teams of their intention. However it has since been confirmed that the FIA did not receive confirmation of any details of the test prior to it taking place in Barcelona and that teams were unaware of the underlying motive – since they had not unanimously agreed the Pirelli compounds were deemed unsafe (Lotus and Ferrari the main opposition with possible changes).
This therefore means the clause in Pirelli’s contract together with the FIA becomes invalid and the sporting regulations once again become relevant.
Essentially Mercedes and Pirelli completed a private testing session, with a current 2013 car and driver’s line up during the “in-season” period as part of article 22.4 of the sporting regulations. It is therefore deemed illegal by the FIA –as the requirements for those conditions to be deemed legal were not met by either the other teams in the paddock or the FIA together.
There is more
It has been rumoured that an FIA representative was not present at the secondary Pirelli test with Mercedes (most likely due to the confusion of the situation if correct) and therefore only Mercedes know exactly what they learnt from the test. With no FIA representative there, development parts, crucial set-up work and different aero configurations could all be tested free of restraint.
But what is certain however, is that Mercedes learnt from essentially 1000km “free” track time with their current car and current driver competing in the 2013 Formula 1 season –therefore gaining them an advantage.
In Monaco, Mercedes fitted their new gearbox casing to the car, which worked directly with the suspension to help improve the rear tyre woes they were facing. Additionally James Allen on his blog stated this in a recent article:
“However some rival teams told this website that they know that Mercedes made changes in their approach to the tyres this weekend in Monaco, in areas like the suspension, for example, which showed that they had learned from the 1,000kms test”.
This backs up the theory that Mercedes may have been testing certain development parts during the test without the FIA’s knowledge and therefore gained a greater understanding surrounding the problems with rear tyre wear. 1000kms is equivalent to 3 race distances (roughly) and that is a lot of track time to be had not to learn anything. A team like Mercedes would not spend 3 days driving around Cataluyna after a Grand Prix weekend for the sole benefit of Pirelli, and therefore it would be wise to assume greater understanding in certain areas of the car must have been gained.
Both Mercedes and Pirelli will probably argue to the International Tribunal that the reason they tested with a current 2013 car is down to them trying to replicate the conditions experienced by that which caused the previous failures during the season with the tyres. With that reference Pirelli could therefore ensure the new compounds structure would adequately stop that from happening from Canada onwards.
However based on the evidence that the FIA has given, this was directly being carried out without the full knowledge of both the FIA and with the support of all the teams in the paddock, which makes the test illegal to my interpretation. That is ultimately something both the Mercedes team and Pirelli will now have to dispute at the hearing and I am gripped to see what the outcome will be.
But what is hopefully clear after this article is why Ferrari have gone unpunished, but Mercedes potentially will not, the situations were on contrast very different.